The Kids

I Decided to Send My Kid to Private School and, OMG, the Judgment!

by Leah Campbell

Photograph by Twenty20

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been pondering the school choices you might make for your child come kindergarten since pretty much the day that baby was born. How are the public schools in the area? Are there quality charter school options? Am I capable of homeschooling? What about private school? Could I ever justify the money for that?

These are the questions that have been running through my mind since my daughter was very young. In fact, I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend about schooling options while we were bottle-feeding our little ones, when her husband chimed in with, “Ummm, I think you ladies have a few years left to worry about this.”

We laughed, but the thing is, education is a big deal. And, in more areas across the country, it’s becoming less of a given that your local public school will be the best option for your child.

Which is why I think I’ve decided I’ll be sending my daughter to private school when she starts kindergarten next year. Already, the judgment has begun.

When I shared the reasons behind my choice in a parenting group online, several members jumped on me to talk about the privilege of that choice. Not everyone has the option to bow out of the public school system, they argued, and the thing public schools need most are committed parents like me who are passionate and involved.

I don’t disagree with them there. But I also can’t wrap my head around sacrificing my kid to a system that seems so broken to me when there are other options available.

For the record, I’m a single mom who runs her own business. I’m by no means rich and this choice will involve sacrifices on my part. But I do get it—I have the ability to make this choice work when others can’t. There is a fair amount of privilege in that. I just have a really hard time imagining sending my kid to a school I know is not a great fit for her, just because I feel guilty about my privilege.

Don’t get me wrong: I had a great public school education. But that was 20+ years ago now. And I always lived in a smaller, more suburban area where families prioritized the public school system. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s the case where we live now.

Public schools in many areas are underfunded and understaffed. Where we live, the public school rankings are pretty darn low compared to the rest of the country. Dropout rates are high. Test scores are low. And there is overcrowding, which leads to various social issues. Too many kids, not enough teachers.

There is so much judgment surrounding this one, when the truth is: Aren’t we all just making the best choices we can for ourselves and our children?

Education is a passion of mine, and I will always support public schools with both my vote and my taxes. I truly believe that all kids deserve access to the best education possible. But I also know someone who teaches at the school we’re zoned for. “If I had kids,” she told a mutual friend, “I wouldn’t send them there.”

That pretty much sealed the deal for me. My child will not be going to our local public school.

But even among my friends, there is skepticism about my choice to send her to a private school. “There are just so many other things you could spend that money on,” they say. And I get that, too. Isn’t this a day most parents look forward to? The day you can basically have free childcare in the form of public school? I spend $900 a month on preschool now. You bet there are other things I would love to spend that money on! But none of those things feel quite as important as this.

We all make choices about how we spend our money. I tend to live pretty modestly. A smaller home than I could afford. A car I’ve had for nearly 10 years now. I don’t buy a bunch of stuff. And my biggest splurges are meals out with friends and vacations with my daughter.

All my friends who have raised an eyebrow at my decision to send my daughter to private school spend money on things I wouldn’t spend money on. And that’s OK! We just all have different priorities when it comes to our finances. Just like we all have different priorities when it comes to the choices we make for our kids.

I have friends who homeschool. They are constantly battling the judgment surrounding that. I have friends who have sent their kids to charter schools and have had to repeatedly explain the philosophies behind some of the alternative teaching methods there. And I’ve had friends choose public who somehow feel like they have to defend that choice whenever anyone discusses wanting to pursue a different option.

There is so much judgment surrounding where we choose to send our kids to school when the truth is: Aren’t we all just making the best choices we can for ourselves and our children?

Knowing my daughter and some of the things she already struggles with, I don’t see her doing especially well in the public school system available to us right now. And I know I'm not equipped to homeschool her.

The preschool she currently attends is a private school that goes through eighth grade. She loves it there. We’ve both come to know all the teachers and to really value the teaching philosophy this school has. The class sizes are small and the focus is on helping kids to learn at their level. I truly believe she will thrive there. So, it’s easy for me to prioritize the school’s tuition, even if that means sacrificing elsewhere.

If we lived somewhere else, I might feel differently. But, right now, where we’re at, with the next few years laid out before us to really set the tone for how she views school and education for the rest of her life, I’m feeling pretty good about sending her to a private school. Even as I know the judgment surrounding that choice has only just begun.

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